Black Americans Don’t Own the Black Experience


Here we go again. Samuel L Jackson’s comments about black British actors taking opportunities from black American actors in Hollywood was very disheartening. Unfortunately I am not shocked by what he said. I wrote an article in 2016 stating how in my opinion President Obama was ushering in a new era of blackness in the United States. But I guess that folks like Samuel L Jackson didn’t get that memo.

Barack Obama.

It was sad to hear a great actor like Mr. Jackson say that black British actors couldn’t play the role of African Americans because they wouldn’t understand racism because they somehow didn’t deal with it in the UK.

The irony of this situation is that actors like David Oyelowo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Idris Elba and others come to America because they can’t get roles in the UK because they are black. But we also fail to mention how many times black American actors and actresses have portrayed various historical figures from the African continent.

Denzel Washington played the 1970s South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko in Cry Freedom, Forest Whitaker played the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the Last King of Scotland, Morgan Freeman played Nelson Mandela in Invictus and the list goes on and on. I heard no such outcry that these men wouldn’t be able to relate to the experience of their characters since they were American.

Forest Whitaker playing Idi Amin.
Photo Credit: CBS NEWS.COM

If people can be honest with themselves, one of the issues for some of the backlash against black British actors is that they are getting more recognition and accolades for the movies that they are in. Nobody was concerned or worried about who Daniel Kaluuya was until Get Out grossed $30 million dollars in its opening weekend.

Daniel Kaluuya

The other issue is that most black Americans don’t see a narrative of a true black experience that doesn’t involve themselves. It was been crazy to see the level of silence from the black American community in this country as the predominately black countries of Somalia and Sudan were apart of the president’s travel ban.

The black immigrant community is also witnessing a ton of deportations of undocumented people as well. Folks also forget that only a small percentage of the Africans who were enslaved came to the United States. The remaining slaves went to the Caribbeans and Latin America. Brazil currently has a population of almost 100 million black people which is only behind Nigeria’s 174 million.

I say all of this to say that black Americans have to get out of their bubbles and see that there are a multitude of layers that make up the black experience in this world. As a first generation Nigerian American, I embrace my black British brothers and sisters coming to this country and honing their acting skills.

If black American actors and actresses feel threatened by their British counterparts, then maybe it will spark a healthy and friendly competition to make them raise their game to the next level. I see this as a win win situation for everybody in expanding the black talent pool in acting.


By Chinedu Achebe